Israel and the Promised Land (II)

December 11, 2010

As I begin this series of posts, I want to be clear that it is not my interest to pursue the whereabouts of the borders of the land promised to Israel.  Neither do I wish to get into the argument about whether or not Israel has ever occupied the extent of the land promised to them by the Lord. 

Instead, I am going to focus on two things—and only two things: 1) whether a viable biblical case can be made that Israel’s presence in Palestine today is in keeping with the land promise made to Abraham and his descendants; and 2) if that is the case—which, I admit I believe as I begin this study, until proven otherwise, what the “conditions,” if any, are for Israel to remain in the land.  (Of course, lurking in the second question are two more which beg to be asked: The first is, “Could Israel again be “exiled” from the land?” And, relatedly: “Could there be even additional cycles of return and expulsion in the future?”

But, before we get to those questions, I think it is worth considering a few statistics, as well as a few observations and a few key biblical passages which provide helpful historical and prophetic perspective as we begin our trek through Scripture on this subject:

–         First, from the initial promise God gave to Abraham (Gen. 12:1ff.) until Israel entered the land was over 675 years (ca. 2,091 BC until ca. 1,406 BC). 

–         It was, of course, 400 years (Gen, 15:13) from the time Jacob’s extended family moved to Egypt at the end of Genesis. 

–         After the almost total disobedience of the people refusing to go into the land, they were required to “circle the airport” for 40 years until all the previous generous—excepting Joshua and Caleb—had died off. 

–         When Israel did enter the land (the first time), they stayed just over 800 years (i.e., from just before 1,400 BC until just after 600 BC).

–         The Babylonian Exile lasted 70 years, just as had been predicted (Jer. 25, 29).

–         When the remnant of Israel returned from Babylon, they were in the land (for the second time) for just over 600 years (i.e., from 539 BC to AD 70).

–         After the destruction of the city of Jerusalem (for the second time), it was about 1,875 years before the birth of the modern Jewish state.

–         The country of Israel that began in AD 1948 has now been in existence for over 62 years.

A later aspect indirectly related to the land promise, but which is worth mentioning here is the tabernacle/temple.  Here are a few temporal angles to contemplate:

–         From the initial construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness to the completed construction of the temple in Jerusalem was about 487 years (1 Ki. 6:1, 38).  So, during that time, the “mobile” tabernacle was the center of Jewish worship, wherever it was located at the time.

–         Ironically, Solomon’s temple was only in existence from about 959 BC (the 11th year of Solomon’s reign; 1 Ki. 6:38) until 586 BC, when it was destroyed by the Babylonians: less than 375 years.

–         The Babylonians would have been unable to destroy the temple had not the Shekinah glory of the Lord previously departed the temple, as seen in Ezekiel’s vision in Ezek. 10.  This vision took place in the sixth year after Ezekiel was taken to Babylon in the deportation of 597 BC (i.e., about 591 BC).

–         There was no functioning temple for just over 70 years, from 586 until 515 BC (Ezra 6:15), when the second temple was completed under the leadership of Zerubbabel.

–         Even though the second temple fell into great disrepair over time, an extraordinary refurbishing was undertaken by Herod the Great that allowed the temple that was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 to be at least as grand as Solomon’s temple in certain respects.  The second temple stood for about 585 years, much longer than its predecessor.  The huge difference was that the Shekinah glory never returned to the temple (and Ezek. 43 prophesies that it will not until the construction of a future, much larger temple, the time factor for which is not absolutely clear).

The last thing I am going to do in this preliminary survey is to list just three New Testament passages that strongly infer that there will be a temple standing in the land of Israel at the end of the age, just before the Second Coming of Christ:

–         Matt. 24:15 speaks of the “abomination of desolation” prophesied in Daniel standing in “the holy place,” which any Jew would take as speaking of the temple.  Although many have attempted to argue that this was fulfilled when the Romans invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, the mention of the “great tribulation” in 24:21—which Dan. 12:1 locates as an end times event, makes that identification unlikely, at least in an exclusive sense (i.e., the events of AD 70 could be a partial/double fulfillment or foreshadowing of the end of the age).

–         2 Thess. 2:3-4 speak of the antichrist figure at the end of the age (in clear connection with the end times Day of the Lord in this context) desecrating “God’s sanctuary” (2:4, HCSB).  Since naos, the Greek term rendered here as “sanctuary,” is often used for the inner part of the temple area, it seems hard to get around the fact that the Apostle Paul meant it that way, with the clear implication being that a temple will be in existence when the antichrist comes on the scene.

–         Revelation 11 refers to the “two witnesses” being killed and their bodies lying in the streets of a city “where also their Lord was crucified” (11:8).  That is unmistakably—unless your previously-determined hermeneutic will not allow you to think clearly—talking about Jerusalem.  And, just a few verses earlier, the mentions of “God’s sanctuary” and “the courtyard outside the sanctuary” in “the holy city” virtually demand the existence of a temple in Jerusalem when “the beast” (i.e., the Danielic depiction of the antichrist) comes center stage (11:7), thus paralleling what was seen in 2 Thess. 2:3-4 and implied in Matt. 24.  Attempts by interpreters championing a pre-AD 70 dating of Revelation are, no matter what is said, ultimately unsuccessful and, although a small cadre of commentaries taking that view have emerged in the past 20 years or so, they fly in the face of the earliest extra-biblical tradition and the most even-handed weighing of the biblical evidence, which decisively favors a date around AD 95.  (In that respect, it must be said that seldom has what logically reduces to an argument from silence—even a very elaborate one, like J.A.T. Robinson’s 400-plus page claim (in Redating the New Testament) that, if Jerusalem had been destroyed by the time all the New Testament documents were written, it would have had to have been recorded in the NT—ever gotten such “legs.”  The pre-70 dating of Revelation was virtually dead—and for good reason—until Robinson’s work took the NT scholarly guild by storm.  And, I am grateful for much of the pressure that it has placed on scholars to date the NT books earlier, but there has been overreaction in regard to the book that closes the biblical canon.)

Well, that’s enough for starters… or, I guess, pre-starters, in this case.

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